I’ve just returned from a week in the European parliament in Strasbourg, where Rupert Matthews was a guest of the Conservative delegation. But while the delegation made Rupert welcome in Strasbourg, Central Office has not had a lot to say to him, or to me, or to East Midlands Conservatives, recently. But according to the BBC, “Conservative Central Office had earlier said it could not begin the process of selecting another MEP until Mr Helmer officially resigns”.
This illustrates CCHQ’s ignorant (or perhaps deliberate) determination to disregard the established euro-election process. Their mind-set is relentlessly UK/Westminster-based, single-member/first-past-the-post. Their attitude is simply irrelevant to the euro-regional-list/proportional-representation system. In fact, of course, they don’t need to “start the process of selection”, because it was completed in 2008!
And even if they did need to start a new process, their determination not to start even when I’ve announced my intention to resign is just plain obstinacy and obstructionism.
At the risk of repetition, let’s recall that the East Midlands Conservative list was established in 2008, according to Party Rules, by an elaborate and expensive hustings-plus-postal-ballot system, to establish a ranked list of five candidates. More than 3000 Party members voted. That list exists, it is in place, and Rupert Matthews is Next-in-Line, Number Three on the list. He is also a sound Conservative who has campaigned vigorously for the Party for best part of thirty years, and is well-liked and respected in the region.
The Party has also said, repeatedly, that there is a Party rule requiring the Next-in-Line to be on the MEP candidate list at the time of succession — though there is some doubt that any such list exists at all at this phase of the European parliamentary cycle. Any such rule would, of course, make nonsense of the whole list system. It is another bizarre attempt by CCHQ to read-across from the Westminster system, but it simply doesn’t read across.
What’s more, it is just plain not true. I and others have studied the rules and been unable to find any such rule. It isn’t there. Yet Ed Young, the Party Chairman’s Chief-of-Staff, insisted repeatedly that it was so. Let’s be generous and assume that he made an honest error — a less charitable explanation would be that he attempted a downright lie. Pressed again and again on the issue, Ed Young finally produced two rules that clearly related to the Westminster by-election situation, and were completely irrelevant to the MEP succession process.
Any such rule would be redundant in any case, since of course Rupert was on the approved list, and was duly selected according to Party rules, in 2008. His position on the list was confirmed and validated by around a million voters in the euro-elections of 2009. This remains the case until the next euro-election in 2014.
It is a sad reflection on today’s Conservative Party that the Party Chairman (inexperienced as she is) should disregard due process, and defy the democratic decision of Party members and voters in the East Midlands.